Once I wrote in one of my reviews that all men have a little kid trapped inside. And this little fella takes the steer from time to time, making us, grown-ups, watch the movies IT wants to see. Most of the time, this kid picks up pretentious, naive stories, which still bear the childhood greatness, but very occasionally, it points out masterpieces. My little kid trapped in me planted an idea to reminisce myself “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” – probably the best superhero animation ever created.
Batman’s mind is troubled not only by the mobsters running the Gotham city, but more recently, by presence of a masked vigilante, who finishes off the heads of the mob. Batman, who instantly becomes the main suspect, needs to find the masked man and reveal his identity. The situtaion gets out of control, when Batman’s archenemy, the infamous Joker, makes his attempt at final annihilation of the new masked savior of Gotham.
Without a doubt, “Batman” Mask of the Phantasm” is a nowadays’ vintage, just compared to “Gotham Knight” from 2008 or “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns“. Yet, there is a fraction of an unflinching drama in old Batman, the inevitability of the failure of his ultimate mission, which is brilliantly portrayed by the Joker. No matter what Batman does and how sincere his devotion to saving Gotham is, there will always be someone to let him down and someone to prove, that the bigger the city, the lonelier are the prisons. This is what constitutes the true genius behind 1993’s movie by Eric Radomski and Bruce W. Timm. Batman is a contrasting symbol, shiny and monumentous on one side and forlorn on the other. And this constant fray of these two sides of the same man is omitted in new movies – Batman is getting way more flat in terms of his personality, brought to the level of a muscle with some childhood trauma.
Hence, “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” is probably the closest animation regarding any superhero to being flawless. The plot is amazingly well-thought, delivering enough space to take full advantage of Batman back-story, implement some love story and finally, make the best appearance of an animated Joker. Kevin Conroy’s voice will always be the only Batman to me: firm, calming and deep in its tone, perfectly exhibiting the personality of Bruce Wayne. Obviously, as it had to be, the floor is taken by Mark Hamill and his legendary voice-performance; it is by far the most devilish, eerie, but at the same time hilarious portrayal of Batman’s archenemy in the history. Many came after Mr. Hamill, but his interpretation of the Joker’s laugh is still the most sinister, spine-chilling of all, hands down.
Finally, “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” should be treated as the first serious approach towards the Batman. The 1960’s TV series was an eternal flop and previous animations were more childish. Even Christopher Nolan admitted, that this movie from 1993 was one of his inspirations in his Dark Knight trilogy – definitely visible in the destructive abilities of the Joker. Truly, the director of “Interstellar” knew where to look for goodness in previous Batman releases.
“Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” deserves to be remembered. And even with the forthcoming big screen hits “Suicide Squad” and “Superman vs. Batman”, let’s not forget, that it doesn’t take lots of CGI, special effects and over-structured characters (yes, Leto’s Joker looks terrible) to tell the story of Batman. All in all, he’s supposed to be a symbol for those, who come undone – even in the darkest hour, there is light.
UMP Grade: 44/50
Animation: 8, Acting: 9, Soundtrack: 8, Plotline: 9, Uniqueness: 10
P.S. The final scene is a masterpiece on its own.